Saturday, 19 July 2014

Why My Diaspora Friends Think I Don't Care About Dead Palestinians

I have some friends, wonderful, committed Zionists and committed Jews, whom I love and who love me, who think that I might be in danger of turning into a monster, They think I am in danger of losing my humanity. They wonder why I, who they know to be so sensitive and sympathetic, seem to be losing that ability. They are alarmed that many of their other Israeli friends seem to be going the same way. They have wondered, complained, and expressed concern about the level of discourse that they perceive as coming out of Israel over this operation in Gaza. They have written on social media about their concern that Israel and Israelis are losing their humanity; that their friends in Israel are not showing enough/any sympathy for the innocent Palestinians who have been killed; and that every time they write about this, their friends in Israel respond quite negatively. 

You see, I agree with you. We need to grab tight hold of our humanity with both hands in this situation. But there is a difference between us that you don't get. I love you, and i'm glad for you that you don't get it, but you just don;t.

I know that some of you have downloaded the Code Red app to your phone, and because you get disturbed by it all the freaking time, you think that you are showing solidarity with us. You are, you are. I appreciate it. But don;t think that just because your phone wakes you up in the middle of the night, you can therefore understand what we are going through. Because when your phone wakes you up in the middle of the night, do you jump out of bed, grab your children out of their beds, shout at your husband to grab the other children, race down the stairs, or out the door, or round the corner to reach your mamad within the 15-30-45-60-90 seconds that you've been allotted? Do you then go to spend 10 minutes in your safe room while checking the radio or social media to find out where else is being bombed? And do tell me how long it takes you to return to normal activities after you come out of your safe room and return your children to their beds. 

Are your children grumpy every day because they are short of sleep, and jumpy every time a car revs up or an ambulance goes past? Are you exhausted because your children come into your bed at night, scared that there'll be another loud noise startling them awake? Does bedtime take you 2 hours because your children want you to stay in their rooms until they are asleep? Do you (And note, i'm talking about those of us in the 'quiet' areas. We're not even getting started about the Israelis who have just been told not to be further than 15 seconds away from their safe rooms.)

Those of us who live in Israel, our emotional hard drive is full. We have not even finished processing our sadness, mourning, and grief over the deaths of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaer & Eyal Yifrach. We are still so full of frustration and anger and disgust at discovering that Jews were capable of causing the cruel death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and now we - your Israel friends and family - are up to our necks with protecting our own children and families, It uses up so, so, so much emotional energy to be worrying about when the next siren will come (even here in my neck of the woods in Beit Shemesh, where it has been relatively quiet), with wondering if the Iron Dome will take out the next one too, with putting on a calm front, with weighing up the risks of rocket alerts along the route of each trip you want to take, with thinking hard about ways to help our children deal with this situation and to lessen their emotional and psychological upset - it takes just so damn much of our working hard drive to get these tasks done, that like my smartphone we - Israel - might just not have enough emotional energy to spare to cry and mourn the dead Palestinian children. 

I can tell you that, speaking personally, it cuts me up to think that we have to kill so many civillians in order to protect our own people. I do not encourage indiscriminate killing, i do not applaud, laud, or desire the death or pain of innocents, of women and children. But we are fighting against an enemy which hides behind innocents, and so many people did and will die just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And there's nothing we can do about that, because their own leadership makes sure that they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have seen some of the pictures - the real ones - of the destruction and pain in Gaza and it chills me through. And yet, i confess that i cannot really feel that sadness and pain for the suffering of the innocents in Gaza, Because my emotional hard drive is full. 

So yes, we are broken again that we have to harm innocents. We feel for the suffering of innocent Palestinians. but WE have been put in a situation where we have no choice; their blood is on the hands of hamas, not us. 

My friends in the diaspora, I know that you mean well. You have the luxury of sharing the pain and suffering of the Palestinians, too. You have the luxury of coolly, rationally, and abstractly thinking about the situation here. You may have been influenced by the thinking that because we have the Iron Dome, things are pretty much ok. That because you also have the Code Red app on your phone, you are experiencing what we are experiencing. Perhaps you let our humour deceive you into believing that we really are all loving the opportunity to take more #bombshelterselfies. But let me be the one to tell you: Our emotional hard drive is full. We currently have so many emotional and psychological applications runnning that mourning and sighing for innocent Palestinians killed by their own leadership's cruelty is just that one more app that we do not have the space to run. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Murder Of Mohammed Abu Khdeir & A Failure Of Godliness

I find that i'm still trying ot come to terms with the information i heard yesterday evening, that a small group (3? 6? A number between 3 and 6?) of Jewish Israelis were the ones who kidnapped, beat, burnt and killed Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It is so shocking to me, and i'm sure to us all, that Jews could be capable of such cruelty.

As many people are saying, they are not the only ones culpable. Throughout our history as a nation, we have always been held responsible - by G-d - for the sins of a minority. In the book of Joshua, Achan is the only Jew who disobeys G-d's command to not touch any of the loot after the battle of Jericho. He takes some money and a cloak, secretly, with no one else knowing. As a result of his breach of conduct, the Jews lose their next battle and some 30,000 men die. I - and many others before and after me - ask myself, is this fair? Why should the whole nation be punished because one man couldn;t control his greed? The commentators answer that kol yisrael areivim zeh bazeh - all of Israel is mixed up one in the other. If all of Israel had been united in serving G-d, Achan could not have even thought of stealing. All of Israel deserved punishment, because there was something lacking in all of Israel that made his act possible.

And the trend has continued. A few books later, King David is pursuing Shim'i ben Geira. Shim'i takes shelter in a city, and David's captain Yoav demands that the city hand over Shim'i or else he will destroy the city. One wise woman recommends that they hand over Shim'i, who is a traitor to the King and deserves the punishment of death, and they do. Generations of scholars endorse her decision - if he had not been handed over, then all the town would have been killed along with him, since their decision to hide him effectively expresses their support for him against King David.

What is my point? There must be something lacking in our whole nation if some of our own people can behave with such cruelty, vengefulness, and bloodthirstiness. My rav, Rabbi Ari Kahn, explains that we are not allowed to kill simply because each person is created b'tselem Elokim - in the image of G-d - and thus when we kill a person, we wipe out a small expression of godliness in this world. It is only when we lose sight of a person's tselem Elokim - when we fail to remember that the other is also created in the image of G-d, when we are incapable of seeing the godly in another human being - that we are able to kill that person.

Clearly, whoever the Jewish murderers were had become unable to see the tselem Elokim in Muhammed Abu Khdeir. Their incapability of viewing him as a person is what enabled them to treat him with such cruelty. My thought is that this is the fault-line which is running through us all, and which made it possible for them to behave in this way. We are not just failing to view the tselem Elokim in Palestinians, we are failing to see it even in our fellow Jews. Just in my own town of Beit Shemesh, just in the last few months, we have done a very good job of blinding ourselves to each other's tselem Elokim. And it stretches across the nation and around the world. Across the religious spectrum; across the political spectrum; across the ethnic spectrum, Jews blind themselves to the godliness inherent in those with whom they disagree. This is the fault-line that was always present within us.

Over 18 fraught, hopeful, fearful days, Naftali, Eyal and Gilad formed a bridge across the fault-line. Charedi, dati, chiloni, right, left, center, in Israel, out of Israel, chassidish, litvish, sephardi, ashkenazi, man, woman and child - we davened and hoped and feared together. Their tselem Elokim threw our own into greater relief. We united on their behalf in a way that - i think - we haven;t achieved since before the Romans arose, let alone fell. They became OUR boys. That the murderers who made it clear just how great is our failure to recognise the tselem Elokim in each other did so as 'revenge' for Eyal Gilad & Naftali's death is painfully ironic. The fault-line is split into a chasm.

I'm neither a talmid chacham nor the daughter of a talmid chacham, and feel free to disagree. But i see a clear connection between our long-running failure to see the tselem Elokim in our brothers next door, and the failure of 3/6/3-6 Jews to see the tselem Elokim in Muhammed Abu Khdeir. And I speak to myself as much as to anyone - and i don't think it's easy. We need to restore our ability to see the godliness inherent in each other. Someone's gotta do it.